Fans of legendary Congolese musician Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi will this weekend mark the 30th anniversary of his death.
Franco, to many of his fans, lives on in the vast discography that he left behind. The music recorded over three decades — from 1955 to 1989 — includes mega compositions by the maestro himself and others by his many lieutenants in TPOK Jazz.
In its heyday, the massive TPOK Jazz orchestra had at least 50 members, made up of vocalists and instrumentalists. The band was divided into two groups — one based in Kinshasa and another based in Europe.
This weekend, Franco's music will fill the airwaves on FM stations and on TV.
In Nairobi and its outskirts, among the clubs that have planned Franco memorial shows tonight include The Harry’s Tavern in Umoja estate, Tembo Club and Hotel in Ongata Rongai and Dream Village Restaurant in South B.
At the Coast, some of the spots that will host Franco memorial shows include the Danka Grill and Lounge in Mtwapa, Bob’s Bar in Mombasa and New Samba Sports Bar in Bamburi, Mombasa.
Lolwe TV rumba presenter Nancie Elombe Mamaafrika, who earlier this year toured DR Congo, says she grew up listening to Franco's popular songs, and loved singers Madilu System, Pepe Ndombe and Djo Mpoyi.
Njoroge Kibe, a rumba fan based in Loitokitok, Kajiado County, says he would spend the weekend listening to some of Franco’s classics.
Other fans who said they would remember Franco include veteran promoter DS Njoroge, Eliab K. Kiemo, Steve Mwimano, Ken Kesh Makokha and Magneto of Nairobi.
Social media sites on Facebook and WhatsApp, including Rumba Translations, Lingala Rhumba Classics, Friends of TPOK Jazz, Rhumba Lyrics and House of Rumba have been awash with posts, audio and video music clips and comments on plans by members to mark the death anniversary.
Kisumu-based Franco fan Gedion Omwono recalled with nostalgia how his elder brother recruited him into becoming a fan by playing TPOK's popular songs such as Mario, Makambo Ezali Minene, Matinda and Azda.
Two of Franco's former band members — his long-serving vice-chairman Lutumba Simaro Massiya, popularly known as La Poet, and guitarist and composer Mose Se Sengo Fan Fan — died this year.
From the original line-up in 1956 when Franco formed the TPOK Jazz band alongside Vicky Longomba, Armando Brazzos, Essous, Celestian Kouka, Rossignol and Edo Nganga, it is only Edo who is still alive. Brazzos, also a former member of African Jazz band, died too.
Though he has been ailing lately, Edo spent most of his earlier musical career shuttling between Kinshasa and Brazzaville in the neighbouring Congo.
Two former members of TPOK Jazz, who joined later — Michel Boyibanda and bass guitarist Celi Bishou, the composer of the evergreen Infidelité Mado — are also among the few surviving members of the band.
Both Simaro and Fan Fan had a great impact on TPOK Jazz. Simaro, who died after a short illness in Paris in March, was steadfast as the deputy band leader and personally penned many of the mega hits released by the ensemble over the years.
Fan Fan died on May 3, 2019, just three days before Simaro's burial in Kinshasa.
In an interview with the Saturday Nation on the day Simaro died, Mose Fan Fan had expressed his dismay at the loss of one of his music peers. He recalled that Simaro had personally challenged and encouraged Franco to recruit him into the TPOK Jazz Band in 1968.
Fan Fan's death drew to a close a career that he had rejuvenated from his base in the United Kingdom, from where he came for several visits to Kenya. Fan Fan had gained popularity in Kenya for his hit song Papa Lolo.
Some of the Europe-based former members of TPOK Jazz include Dizzy Mandjeku, Nana Akumu, Malage Lugendo, Nedule Papa Noel, Mavatiku Michelino, and Flavian Makabi. Others are Makonko Makoss, Lokombe Nkalulu and Wuta Mayi. Some of them are now ailing and can no longer perform on stage. They include veteran guitarist Nedule Papa Noel and singers Youlou Mabiala Prince and Josky Kiambukuta. Meanwhile Lola Selenge, a former TPOK jazz dancer, died in USA earlier this week.
Speaking recently to the Saturday Nation by telephone from Kinshasa, Josky had expressed his appreciation of Kenyans' love for his music.
Veteran singer Sam Mangwana, who these days shuttles between Angola, the country of his ancestry (he was born in Kinshasa) and Paris, is reputed for his last memorable recordings with Franco, among them Toujours OK.